Snow covered trees in Federal Way during the snowstorm in February. Photo courtesy of Shelley Pauls

Snow covered trees in Federal Way during the snowstorm in February. Photo courtesy of Shelley Pauls

3 Federal Way churches to open doors to homeless for severe weather shelter

City to spend $15,000 on staffing homeless shelter, which will rotate between churches during severe weather this winter.

Homeless people will have a warm place to stay overnight in Federal Way this winter during severe weather.

Three churches have partnered with the city of Federal Way to provide shelter to the homeless when temperatures dip to 32 degrees or below for at least 24 consecutive hours.

Church of the Nazarene, Family Life Church and Brooklake Church will offer shelter on a rotating basis.

“Federal Way is a community full of compassion when it comes to serving the less fortunate,” Mayor Jim Ferrell said in a statement. “The desire for these churches to get involved in a City program like this really exemplifies that compassion and desire to help.”

The city will spend $15,000 from its general fund this year to provide two full-time positions to staff the shelter up to 18 nights. Catholic Community Services will provide shelter staffing, who will operate and supervise the shelter overnight.

“It is the city’s intent to fund this each year and not request funds from other partners, though we may request support in extras like snacks and other small items,” stated Tyler Hemstreet, the city’s communications coordinator.

The need for an overnight homeless shelter was prompted during last February’s pounding snowstorm that triggered a state of emergency in western Washington. The city and surrounding region experienced above average snow at 14 inches and ice accumulation during the storm, dubbed Snowmageddon.

The Federal Way Community Center was opened as a warming center during the storm in the daytime, but homeless people were sent back onto the street during the frigid nights. In response to the snowstorm and the city’s need for overnight homeless sheltering, Ferrell convened over 30 local nonprofits and churches on March 27 to brainstorm ideas for providing shelter to the homeless during severe weather.

As a result of the March meeting and ongoing conversations, three churches are working on separate memorandums of understanding with the city that will outline the details of each shelter arrangement, and will rotate operating the severe weather shelter from November through March.

“The intent is to rotate through the locations so that we can alleviate some of the stress that comes with being a host site,” Sarah Bridgeford, the city’s Human Services manager, said as she provided the Federal Way City Council with a shelter update at their Sept. 17 meeting. “One of the discussions that we’ll be having is what happens if we have a longer severe weather event like we did last winter, and in those cases we may have some rotations — that’s one of the conversations that our church partners want to have.”

Bridgeford said the city’s ongoing negotiations with the churches will determine the final details of the shelter operations, including hours, rotations, the length at any one location and liability. The city may add additional partners as conversations continue.

The mayor will activate the severe weather shelter when the following conditions are present:

Low temperatures fall at or below 32 degrees for at least 24 consecutive hours or more, and/or;

New snow accumulation exceeds or is expected to exceed 3 inches in depth, and/or;

Other conditions that are deemed severe enough to present a substantial threat to the life or health of persons experiencing homelessness are present in Federal Way and at least one other severe weather shelter in King County has been activated.

Bridgeford said the last provision is fairly common and the city of Renton uses that requirement as well.

When the mayor activates the shelter, the city will also notify partners, including Crisis Connections (2-1-1), South King County Forum on Homelessness,Federal Way Public Schools, local churches, nonprofits and all city staff.

While the city appreciates the three churches who have stepped up to provide shelter, they also recognize they will need additional support from the community for this effort to be successful, Bridgeford said.

The city will also coordinate additional supports for the shelters, including volunteers, snacks, meals and assistance with blanket donations and laundering. The shelters will also use the city’s 100 cots, which also present logistical challenges.

“In one of the locations, we would probably have to, on a day to day basis, remove the cots and the blankets because one of the particular churches doesn’t have space,” the mayor noted at the Sept. 17 meeting.

During the meeting, council members also asked questions and expressed their concerns with the shelter effort.

Council member Hoang Tran asked about how many people the shelters will serve. Bridgeford said the city is working with each of the three churches to determine capacity, as each space is different.

Deputy Mayor Susan Honda noted that Family Life Church’s location is difficult to access by transit. She asked if there will be a way for homeless people to get to the church if they need transportation assistance.

“We will not be directly providing transportation as part of this; that’s a cost-prohibitive measure,” Bridgeford responded. “That’s going to be part of the conversation we’re having with [the churches] as well.”

Honda said during the Sept. 10 Parks, Recreation, Human Services, Public Safety Council Committee meeting that she hopes the churches could match their shelter hours to open when the Federal Way Community Center closes its warming center in the evening.

During the committee meeting, Honda also asked if the shelters would be open to all, including people under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Bridgeford said yes, “unless they cause an issue and are asked to leave.”

The council will approve the memorandums of understanding at a future council meeting.

How to help

To help with donations, volunteerism or other support for the severe weather shelters, please contact Bridgeford at Sarah.Bridgeford@cityoffederalway.com or 253-835-2651.

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